WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — In an event steeped in medieval symbolism and military tradition, Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger was inducted into the AFMC Order of the Sword during a ceremony Feb. 5, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio.
The Order of the Sword is the highest honor the enlisted force can bestow upon an individual for his or her conspicuous and significant contributions to the welfare and prestige of the enlisted force, to mission effectiveness, and to the overall military establishment.
“I am overwhelmed and humbled by this spectacular ceremony and by the recognition that comes with it,” Wolfenbarger said. “My long-held personal belief is that this is the premier recognition that any leader in our Air Force could ever aspire to attain.”
Acting as sergeant major of the mess, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Warner, the AFMC command chief, explained why the general was selected for induction.
“The Order of the Sword is not given to an officer because they have had a great career, or because they are a four-star general, or because they are the ‘first in history,’ ” he said to Wolfenbarger. “All of those things apply to you, but we awarded you the Order of the Sword for your leadership — your servant leadership.
“You never turned away the opportunity to talk and listen to your enlisted Airmen, with true and honest sincerity, and then you engaged on the issues and problems facing them,” Warner continued. “It is one thing to listen. It’s a whole lot more to do something about what you hear. There is no other honor that allows us to properly thank you for your servant leadership. The Order of the Sword is truly befitting for what you have done and what you will continue to do as our general. You certainly didn’t ask for it; you certainly didn’t expect it. You earned it.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody was also in attendance at the ceremony, and he offered his congratulations and endorsement as well.
“I have the distinct honor of standing here not only representing the 13,000 enlisted members within Air Force Materiel Command, but also the more than 410,000 enlisted men and women that serve in uniform today,” he said. “And all of them would agree with this award and recognition of Order of the Sword. Yes, you are a general among generals and a leader among leaders, but before you were any of that you were an Airman among Airmen — and you’ve never forgotten that.”
The event included the presentation of a proclamation signed by key participants of the ceremony, a citation of the Order of the Sword award, a scroll signed by the ceremony attendees attesting to the general’s patriotic service and leadership, and a personal sword.
Wolfenbarger acknowledged that during the first stages of her career, she did not have a lot of interaction with the enlisted force. However, she said, it became clear to her very early on that while all of the enlisted Airmen she met would salute smartly and professionally respond when directed by any officer, their respect was something to be earned.
“So for my almost four decades of affiliation with our United States Air Force,” she said, “I have strived to be worthy. Most importantly, I have strived to be worthy to lead Airmen.”
The general went on to say that as her career progressed and she had more exposure to enlisted members, including retired senior NCOs and chiefs, she was increasingly impressed, calling them the “lifeblood of our great institution.”
“I was once asked at a media event who my heroes are,” Wolfenbarger said. “I started with my dad, a retired Air Force pilot who — along with my mom — provided the foundation for the person that I am today. A close second on my hero list is my wonderful husband, Wolf. And after my dad and Wolf, I told that reporter that my heroes number in the hundreds of thousands.
“My heroes are the quiet professionals who serve their country day in and day out, who are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure mission success, who recognize that they are a part of something so much bigger than themselves, who are willing to focus on team success rather than individual success, and who feel blessed and honored to serve,” she continued. “You. You are all my heroes. To be presented with this honor by all of you, whom I hold in the highest esteem, is truly, truly without equal. Thank you.”